The beautiful mitzvah of, שִׁלּוּחַ הַקֵּן, Shilu’ach Ha’kain, of sending away the mother bird before taking the chicks or the eggs from the nest, that is contained in Ki Tetze, is a primary example of a most meaningful mitzvah.
The Midrash, Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:3, regards the role of mitzvoth, as serving as “good angels.” The good angels accompany those who perform mitzvot, gracing their daily acts and consecrating their earthly deeds.
Mitzvot elevate even a person’s most mundane daily actions, such as tilling the soil, earning a livelihood, acquiring clothing, grooming one’s hair and building one’s house.
The Midrash concludes by saying, “God said: Even if you are not engaged in any particular work, but are merely journeying on the road, the precepts [mitzvot] accompany you. From where do we learn this? For it is said: ‘If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way,’ etc.” That is why Scripture, in Proverbs 1:9, refers to the performance of mitzvot as לִוְיַת חֵן הֵם לְרֹאשֶׁךָ, that mitzvot are a crown of glory, a beautiful adornment, a decoration of honor for those who perform them.
Professor Nechama Leibowitz points to another approach to understanding the aim of the mitzvot that is found in the Midrash on parashat Shelach. The Torah in Numbers 15:38, declares וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת, that “they make for themselves tzitzit,” fringes on the corners of their garments.
The Midrash states that the Torah and the commandments were given to serve as an inheritance to Israel in the hereafter. Every earthly action and deed is somehow associated with a Torah commandment. An Israelite who goes out to plow, sow, knead dough, who sees a bird’s nest, plants a tree, buries a dead person, builds a house, or wraps himself in a cloak, will invariably encounter a mitzvah that directly pertains to that action.
Professor Leibowitz cites two mitzvot in the parasha to demonstrate the powerful impact of mitzvot. The first, is the mitzvah ofShilu’ach Ha’kain, of sending away the mother bird, as an example of extraordinary compassion, the compassion shown to a mother bird when taking her chicks. Much more however, does this mitzvah serve as an example of the compassion that human beings are expected to show their fellow human beings, far beyond what might be normally expected.
A second example is the return of lost property. This mitzvah is first mentioned in Exodus 23:4, כִּי תִפְגַּע שׁוֹר אֹיִבְךָ אוֹ חֲמֹרוֹ תֹּעֶה, הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ, When you encounter your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him. The mitzvah of returning lost property is repeated again in Deuteronomy 22:1, לֹא תִרְאֶה אֶת שׁוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ אֶת שֵׂיוֹ נִדָּחִים, וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם, הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ, You shall not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray and hide yourself from them; you shall, in any case, bring them again to your brother.
Mimndies points out that there’s a subtle, but critical, difference between the two verses. The verses in Exodus uses the expression טוֹעֶה, to’eh, lost, whereas the verse in Deuteronomy uses the expression נִדָּחִים, Nidachim, if they were pushed away, implying that they had wandered far afield, requiring much time and effort to recover them.
Nevertheless, no matter how great the effort, the Torah insists on the obligation to restore the lost property to its rightful owner.
The expression in Deuteronomy 22:1, הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם, You shall surely return them, is interpreted in the Talmud to teach that even if the finder brought the lost animal back, and it ran away again, even four or five times, the finder is obligated to bring it back again, and again, until it is restored to its owner.
Rashi says that the phrase, “You shall surely restore them,” teaches that the finder must make certain that there is something to restore to the original owner. While waiting in the finder’s home for the rightful owner to claim his lost property, the lost animal must not be allowed to eat the equivalent of its entire value. Therefore, the finder should rather sell the animal, after a short while, so that there will still be value left to return to the proper owner. Shabbat Shalom